When we humans go, we go hard. You don’t see turtles building the world’s largest skyscrapers, cheetahs winning Survivor: All-Stars, or trees mining all the world’s coal to convert it to fuel for their tree cars.
Nah, all bitches when it comes to people. We are the biggest, we are the best. So when it comes to eliminating literally every species on the face of the Earth, you’re damn certain we’re better at it than spiders or seahorses.
How good are we at it? Well, we are about to become the GOAT when it comes to mass extincting everything, better than space asteroids and Earth volcanoes and tectonic shits and the general passage of time and the actual invention of photosynthetic prokaryotic bacteria, which eliminated almost every organism on the planet at the start of the Cambrian Era.
[Gerardo Caballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and his] colleagues have thought through these difficulties, deliberately conservative – they’re well aware of the dangers of crying wolf on a topic of such importance, and where passions run so high [in a paper that came out Friday titled: Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction]
But even trying their best to come to the conclusion that we are not fucked, they came to the conclusion that we are fucked.
…with this caution, the figures are still shocking. Rather than the nine extinctions among vertebrates that would be expected to have occurred in normal geological circumstances since 1900, their conservative estimate adds in another 468 extinctions, spread among mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish… Depending on the group, extinction rates are 10 times to more than 100 times higher than normal. A sixth mass extinction, therefore, is beginning. They estimate that it would grow to rival the last great catastrophe of the past, when the dinosaurs and much else died out 65m years ago, in as little as three human lifetimes.
I guess three human lifetimes is longer than one human lifetime, which is good, but that’s still pretty damn fast for, you know, the whole Earth to die. Well, not the whole Earth. Earth’ll be fine. But everything on it won’t. And this prediction doesn’t even factor in the whole host of even more terrible bullshit we people are doing to the planet.
The Caballos projection does not try to factor in, for instance, the effects of global warming, or of ocean acidification. Once these kick in in earnest, they will sweep many species out of their habitability zones, and ratchet up the extinction rate still further.
In other fucking words:
We are now living through one of those brief, rare episodes in Earth history when the biological framework of life is dismantled.
That ol’ thing? No biggie. Only everything we need to survive. The only problem? Everything we are doing to survive is just what’s causing it all to die out.
… the extinctions are being driven by the effects of just one single species, Homo sapiens. Such a mass extinction has not occurred before (with the possible exception, 2.5bn years ago, when a type of microbe evolved photosynthesis to spew out oxygen, a gas that would have been highly toxic to the other microbes living then, and these would have been pushed to the fringes of life on Earth – where they still remain).
Even more extraordinarily, this single species is land-living, but has managed to become the top predator in the oceans too, causing populations of whales and fish to collapse.
So when you get home tonight, crack a beer and toast to the Earth as you know it. For you may literally never see it again.
Also toast to humans, for doing it big. GOAT. Or WOAT. Whichever, really.